Humphrey Fellow given Guatemala’s top science award

By Joan Conrow

February 27, 2019

Dr. Carlos Alfonso Orozco Castillo, a former Hubert H. Humphrey Fellow at Cornell University, has been awarded the National Medal of Science and Technology, the highest recognition conferred on a scientist in Guatemala.

The President of the Republic and the President of the Congress of the Republic presented Orozco Castillo with the award in a special Feb. 15 ceremony at the Congress of the Republic.

“With his work, he has contributed to a greater knowledge of the different crops, especially coffee, corn, beans, cardamom and other important species for our economic and food security,” said Dr. Oscar Cóbar, National Secretary of Science and Technology.

Orozco Castillo, an agronomist at the University of San Carlos of Guatemala, received the award for his research using molecular markers to find resistance to diseases in coffee and for propagating resistant genotypes using bioreactors through tissue culture and somatic embryos.  In addition, the selection committee also acknowledged his work using molecular markers and conventional breeding procedures to find resistance to drought in corn and beans for the  east Guatemalan drought zone.

The award is made on a competitive basis.  Official institutions nominate candidates, who are scientists from different areas of the country. After this, a national committee selects the “scientist of the year” based on the merits of his work, its contributions to science and technology and its impact on the wider society and the country.

Orozco Castillo represented Guatemala in the Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship Program through Cornell University’s International Programs in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (IP-CALS) in 2006-07. The program recently received a five-year renewal at Cornell. In the 2019-20 academic year, Cornell will celebrate 40 years of continuously Humphrey Fellows, an achievement shared with only five other universities.  The HHF program offers professional enrichment in the United States for experienced mid-career professionals from selected countries throughout the world. Fellows are selected based on their potential for leadership and their commitment to public service in either the public or private sector.

Orozco Castillo holds a Master of Science with a specialization in genetics and plant breeding from Texas Tech University in the United States and earned his PhD with a specialization in agricultural biotechnology and plant genetic resources from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland. He completed his postdoctoral studies at Cornell University, specializing in agricultural and environmental biotechnology.

With 30 years of experience in research, teaching and professional work, Orozco Castillo is an academic expert at the field and laboratory level, and an expert in the direction and execution of research projects for new technologies and agri-food production alternatives in Guatemala and abroad.

He has conducted research in the fields of biodiversity conservation, genetics and biotechnology, with a focus on coffee cultivation, adaptation to climate change, food security and production of horticultural crops. He has worked in the public and private sectors, as well as for international institutions. Orozco Castillo is widely published and frequently lectures around the world.

His son, Pablo Orozco Lopez, is carrying on the family interest in biotechnology, scholarship and service. He is an attorney who currently serves as a consultant to the Guatemalan government and is a legal fellow and trainer for the Cornell Alliance for Science, also based in IP-CALS. Orozco Lopez also was a 2016 Alliance for Science Global Leadership Fellow.